The Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival celebrates and explores the life and works of Tennessee Williams, his Mississippi Delta roots, and the history of Clarksdale and Coahoma County.
The festival is now in its 27th year.
The festival was founded by Clarksdale journalist, photographer and author Panny Mayfield, noted Williams scholar Dr. Kenneth Holditch, and Dr. Ann Abadie of the University of Mississippi, with decades of consultations and support from Williams scholar Dr. Colby Kullman, also of the University of Mississippi. The festival is now run by co-directors Karen Kohlhaas of New York's Atlantic Theater Company and Jen Waller, director of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center at the Cutrer Mansion.
Among the outstanding artists, scholars, theatre and media professionals who have enriched Clarksdale’s Tennessee Williams Festivals for the past 27 years are Ruby Dee, Dakin Williams, Anthony Herrera, Tammy Grimes, Joel Vig, Jodie Markel, John Lahr, Nancy Tischler, Ailene Hale, Al Devlin, Margaret Thornton, Thomas Keith, Karen Kohlhaas, Kenneth Holditch, Ralph Voss, Colby Kullman, Matt Foss, Dorothy Shawhan, Charlie Musselwhite, Jim O’Neal, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Maude Schuyler Clay Coop Cooper, Richard Freeman Leavitt, Lyle Leverich, Erma Duricko and Blue Roses, Eda Holmes, Alice Walker, Johnny and Susan McPhail, Sherrye Williams, Big Jack Johnson, Carmel Lonegren, Heather Hendren, Mary Margaret Miller, Sarah and George Wright, and others.
The festival is held all over the city of Clarksdale, including events in the Cutrer Mansion, named "Belvoir" by the Cutrer family, who were featured often in Williams' Delta plays.
Born as Thomas Lanier Williams III in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911, Tennessee Williams moved to Clarksdale with his mother, sister, and grandparents in 1917. His grandfather, Walter E. Dakin was the rector of Clarksdale's St. George's Episcopal Church until 1932. After Williams' father, Cornelius Williams, a traveling salesman, was promoted to a desk job in 1918, he moved his wife and children to St. Louis. Both Tennessee and his sister Rose returned regularly to Clarksdale to live with and then visit their grandparents as they grew up. The rectory they lived in is now a museum.
Williams would imbed Mississippi Delta landmarks, stories, and people in some of his most famous plays, including THE GLASS MENAGERIE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, ORPHEUS DESCENDING, SUMMER AND SMOKE, ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, and the film BABY DOLL, as well as dozens of short plays, stories, and poems.
Nearby Moon Lake is featured in all of Williams' Delta plays, as well as the former Moon Lake Club (known in the plays as Moon Lake Casino and currently named Uncle Henry's Place). Other locales and landmarks that inspired Williams include the towns of Lyon and Friar's Point, the Delta Planter's Bank, the White Star Pharmacy, the angel statue in Grange Cemetery, and many more.
Character names from Clarksdale neighbors and Williams' grandfather's parishioners include Blanche, Stella, Brick, Baby Doll, Laura, Wingfield, Cutrer, Gilliam and Baugh.